OPM's proposed snow policy: Stay or go when we say so

Wednesday - 11/2/2011, 4:35pm EDT

John Berry, OPM Director

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This story has been updated from its original version.

By Jolie Lee
Federal News Radio

Federal employees would leave when the Office of Personnel Management tells them to or stay in their buildings until OPM says it's safe to leave (a shelter-in-place option) under a proposed update to its snow policy, according to a statement from the agency.

The change, if passed, would only be an option, said OPM Director John Berry, in an interview with reporters on Thursday.

"We're not going to be trying to keep people hostage," he said.

Berry said OPM does not expect agencies to "run out and buy cots for their employees." However, if this change is approved, employees could stay in the building until the roads are safer or the mass transit system is not overloaded.

He added, "Federal offices are, by and large, nice places to sit out a snowstorm."

Earlier decision

Under the current policy, OPM makes a decision by 4 a.m. on the operating status of government. That time might be pushed even earlier with the updated policy, Berry said.

"We're looking at what we can do to improve the speed of which we can make that decision," he said.

OPM is also considering staggered departure times, according to the release.

The personnel agency is working with local and state governments and agencies on the proposed changes, Berry said. OPM plans to meet with the Chief Human Capitol Officers Council next week, he said.

"What we have now is still a draft still under discussion and review," Berry said.

Berry said his "hesitation" to discuss the draft was because it was still in the approval process.

"It's one thing to have staff discuss a draft, but if I'm discussing it, it can potentially be represented that the agency has concluded or made a decisions. I want to be a little careful," he said.

The story about the proposed changes was first reported by the Washington Post.

Telework push

OPM has also hinted at pushing telework harder in its updated snow policy. Current policy states agencies should consider requiring employees to telework whenever the weather forces government offices to close and also to let employees work outside the office routinely so they know exactly what to do when snow strikes.

"OPM has worked closely with the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments to address lessons learned and potential solutions in response to the snowstorm and subsequent gridlock arising from the January 26, 2011 snowstorm," according to the statement.

The federal government came under heat after the January storm when thousands were dismissed early by OPM—but too late to avoid getting stuck on the road during the storm.

After that storm, Berry told Federal News Radio the National Weather Service "nailed" the forecast that the storm would hit between 3 and 4 o'clock and that it was going to be an ugly rush hour. Berry said he expected the snow to fall fast and heavy, but added, "I've lived here my whole life ... and I think it's the fastest I've ever seen a storm accumulate."

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